"Superb": Head-Fi's Jude Mansilla on the Meze Audio Elite Headphones

Note: This article is based upon the video "Meze Audio Elite Review And Measurements” made by Head Fi on their YouTube channel and is printed here in partnership with Head Fi. The review was originally posted on September 7th, 2021. Edits have been made for clarity and length.

Head Fi made a masterful review of the Meze ELITE Isodynamic Hybrid Array Headphone on their YouTube channel.

“In terms of sound quality,” host Jude Mansilla said, ”the Meze Audio Elite is superb, deserving of the role it assumes as Meze’s new flagship.”

Watch the video review below or scroll on for the written transcript.

Intro 

Days ago, Meze Audio launched a new open-back flagship planar magnetic headphone called the Meze Audio Elite. While sound quality is what defines flagships in this community--a community where fidelity is part of its very name--and this headphone merits flagship status on sound alone, I’m actually going to start with build quality, fit, and finish.

Build Quality - Intro 

Now, I don’t recall having started one of these videos with the topic of build quality before, but I feel compelled to do that now with the Meze Audio Elite. When someone is spending thousands of dollars on a headphone, I think that in addition to spectacular sound quality it’s fair to expect outstanding build quality, too. Some companies do deliver in that respect, but the extent to which Meze Audio takes it with the Elite far exceeds any other that I’m aware of.

In its literature, Meze Audio says its products are designed to surpass all short-living trends and become heirlooms rather than just headphones. That would sound excessively sentimental if it wasn’t true, but it is true. All of the Meze Audio Elite’s parts and the steps necessary to craft them speak more to something like fine watchmaking than headphones.

Built Quality - CNC

For every Elite, the CNC milling time for the frame alone is over twenty hours. Assembly of the Elite is meticulously slow because pretty much every component of it is expensive, and any scrap part then would constitute a significant loss.

Never have I seen a headphone where the microscopy of macro photography isn’t merciless so much as it is flattering. And that’s just the chassis. If the chassis at twenty hours of milling time and additional hours of assembly seems exacting--maybe even excessive--then the Meze Audio Elite’s driver unit takes that further still.

Build Quality - Driver

Each driver unit takes more than 100 hours to produce and test at the facilities of Rinaro Isodynamics in Ukraine before delivering the drivers to Meze Audio for final assembly of the headphone.

Build Quality - Quick-changing ear pads

Now, one of my biggest pet peeves with many headphones is the difficulty presented by what should be, in my opinion, the simple act of changing ear pads. The Elite uses something Rinaro Isodynamics calls an Isomagnetic ear pad attachment. This uses the demagnetizing field generated by the driver to hold the ear pad in place. This makes for simple, easy ear pad removal and installation.

I’m bringing the ear pads up in context of the driver discussion because this ear pad mounting system (also by design) redirects the magnetic field back into the driver to improve the driver efficiency. So, yes, the ear pads are actually part of the driver’s magnetic design. From an engineering standpoint: brilliant. From a user’s standpoint: also brilliant. Because changing the ear pads takes only seconds.

Build Quality - Ear pad options

Speaking of ear pads, the Meze Audio Elite comes with two different types. One pair is made of Alcantara, and they’re identical to the Alcantara ear pads that come with Meze’s Empyrean. However, the Elite also comes with a brand new ear pad design that’s a leather and alcantara hybrid.

Now, which of these ear pads you choose will have a substantial impact on the Elite sound signature, which I’ll get to later. Both types of ear pads are, in my opinion, supremely comfortable for long-term wear.

Build Quality- Headband

While on the topic of comfort, I also want to point out the headband design, which, to the best of my knowledge, is unique to Meze, first with the Empyrean and now with the Elite. It’s a patent-pending design they call Pressure Distribution Wings. What I’m talking about is this recurve design with the leather suspension band and the carbon fiber headband. The way Meze joins the headband assembly with the adjustment slider rods, and the way they angle--that whole part of the assembly, too, when worn on wide heads like mine--the weight is distributed beautifully.

Perhaps, just as importantly, the adjustment rods remain in a more vertical orientation. Sizing up and down headbands on other headphones can angle the adjustment rodes closer to horizontal on wider heads, making the weight and pressure distribution across the ear pad sometimes less than ideal, or even uncomfortable, because they’re pushing out at the top. While Meze’s design makes for a wider on-head profile, it also makes for one of the most comfortable full-sized headphones available. 

Build Quality - Driver

Let’s get back to the Elite’s driver unit. Again, the Meze Elite is a planar magnetic headphone, but it uses a trace design coil design that is entirely unique to Meze Audio and Rinaro Isodynamics.

Build Quality - Driver Dual Coil Array

The Elite’s driver uses a very cool dual coil array on each side designed for frequency targeting for different areas of the ear, which Meze claims improves acoustical perception, particularly in the upper frequency range. Specifically, the coil on the diaphragm is divided into two distinct configurations, which Meze and Rinaro say solves a problem common with conventional planar magnetic arrays, that problem being the reflected signals that entering the ear canal with different time delays. They say that this negatively affects the focus of 3D sound imaging. More specifically, to address this on the Meze Audio Elite’s driver diaphragms, there’s a switchback coil on the upper portion that’s designed to be more efficient at reproducing lower frequencies.

Build Quality - Driver Spiral Coil

On the bottom portion of the driver, positioned directly over the ear canal, is a spiral coil. This spiral coil is more efficient at reproducing middle-high frequencies. Positioning the spiral coil over the canal enables the portion of the driver to radiate more directly into the ear canal to minimize time delays. Meze Audio says that doing this improves 3D imaging and spatial localization. Given how well the Meze Audio Elite images, I’m inclined to think they may be on to something, as you’ll see in the measured results later. I also think that this design may in fact result in a unique response in the treble range, perhaps because of that more direct radiation of the higher frequencies into the ear canal.

Build Quality - Rinaro Parus 

The diaphragm is also made of a new diaphragm material that RInaro calls Rinaro Parus. According to Rinaro and Meze, Parus is an innovative, low-mass acoustic diaphragm built on an ultra-thin biaxially-oriented semi-crystalline polymer film--okay. As I understand it, they’re stretching the polymer in all directions at elevated temperatures. I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated than that, but I’m a very simple man. Anyway, according to Rinaro, this results in a complex crystalline microstructure that develops in the film for strength, stiffness, and stability. Again, as I understand it, compared to the Empyrean’s diaphragm, for example, it’s about one third as thick, much lower mass, and it’s drawn to a higher tension. Among several other advantages, I was told that this results in improved impulse response. We’ll see how that worked out in the measurements later

Sound Quality - Intro

Before we get to measurements, let’s talk about my sonic impressions of the Elite. In terms of sound quality, the Meze Audio Elite is superb, deserving of the role it assumes as Meze’s new flagship. Its sound is also deserving of all the painstaking craftsmanship I’ve been gushing over. While the Elite assumes the top spot in Meze’s lineup, I was actually happy to find that the Empyrean will remain in the lineup, too. Because while the Elite and Empyrean sound related, they’re definitely different enough to merit the coexistence of both as choices in the Meze family.

Sound Quality - Ear pad differences

As I mentioned earlier, the sound signature you get with these headphones has much to do with the ear pads you choose to use with them. With the Meze Empyrean, I have a very clear preference for the alcantara pads versus the leather ear pads. The leather ear pads render the Empyrean too thick-sounding, too honeyed for my tastes, and I’m someone who tends to like his bass a bit richer than flat. With the Empyrean, the alcantara ear pads are simply more right, more balanced, more airy.

The Empyrean, again, with its alcantara ear pads, have a lovely way of being both smooth and shimmery. With the new Meze Audio Elite, it’s kind of the opposite. For me, the alcantara ear pads are a bit lighter in the bass with the Elite than I find ideal. The Elite’s resolution, however, is clearly a cut above the Empyrean’s with these same ear pads, but it gives up bass impact.

If you’re familiar with the Empyrean, and you find its bass perhaps a touch too much for you, even with the alcantara ear pads, I have a feeling you’ll probably opt for the alcantara ear pads over the new hybrid ear pads.

With the Elite, for me, the ear pad of choice is clearly the new hybrid ear pad. Again, a hybrid of leather and alcantara, this ear pad was carefully created and tuned to work optimally with the Elite and its new lower mass drivers. With these pads, the Elite’s bass is just right--extended, super impactful, but not at all overblown to me, and with noticeably more resolution and bass detail than the Empyrean at its best.

Sound Quality - Midrange 

Another thing I love about the Elite--again, with its hybrid ear pads--is it’s slightly more forward mid-range. I love the warmth, the weight, that the Elite’s mid range presents with guitars, vocals, and piano. It’s rich in the mids but without congestion or muddiness. Kudos to Meze Audio and Rinaro for opting for some richness in the mids. The Elite proves it can still be a reference headphone even with a touch of sumptuousness in the mid range.

Sound Quality - Treble 

In terms of treble, I’ll compare the Elite to the Empyrean, which, again, has an unusual beauty: a smooth, yet shimmery thing going on. The Elite’s treble, with the hybrid pads, especially, is, by comparison, more lifelike because it’s both smoother to my ears yet clearly more resolving. Still though, with the Elite’s treble, there’s still shimmer with its smoothness and even more air and incisiveness. In fact, from the mid-range through the treble, the Elite shines more light on the fine-spun stuff than its sibling, the Empyrean. The Meze Audio Elite is the better, more accomplished sibling. It’s also quite a bit more expensive--a thousand bucks more expensive. At four thousand dollars, the Meze Audio Elite is a beautiful new entry to the price-no-object, flagship-class, non-electrostatic headphone market.

Measurements

Let’s get to measurements, including some measurement comparisons. The following measurements were made using the Bruel and Kjaer 5128, which is the most human-like ear simulator standard, and what we’ve transitioned to as our primary headphone measurement fixture. The 5128 is the very first hearing simulator that simulates average adult human hearing across the full audio range from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. This is the Meze Audio Elite’s frequency response with the alcantara earpads. 


Now I’ll overlay the Elite’s frequency response with the hybrid leather and alcantara ear pads, which I have a strong preference for. 


Between the two, you’ll notice in these measurements, perhaps owing to the spiral coil configuration radiating high frequencies more directly into the canal, there’s great upper treble presence--perhaps more than we’re used to seeing. While it’s just my supposition, I suspect in this frequency range that it may be one of the contributing factors to the wonderful sense of airiness from these headphones. 

This is the Elite’s THD, or total harmonic distortion, with the alcantara ear pads. 



Now, I’ll overlay its THD with the hybrid ear pads. 


Meze audio lists the Elite’s THD as being under 0.05% across the whole frequency range. You can see that we measured THD from the Elite at levels far lower than that. Very impressive. Now let’s compare the frequency response of the new Meze Audio Elite with its sibling, the Empyrean, both using the alcantara ear pads. 


As I mentioned earlier, I prefer the Empyrean with its alcantara ear pads and the Elite with its hybrid leather and alcantara ear pads. Here’s the frequency response of both of those configurations. 


And here’s the THD of the Meze Audio Elite with its hybrid ear pads compared to the Empyrean’s THD with its alcantara ear pads. 


Again, these are the configurations of each of these headphones that I prefer the most. Earlier, I mentioned that Meze Audio suggested that the Elite would have improved impulse response versus the Empyrean since both come with the same alcantara ear pads. Here’s a look at the measured impulse response of both headphones using the alcantara ear pads. 


You can see in this impulse response measurement that the Elite does appear to have a clear advantage here.

And finally, for the sake of direct comparison to one of the most well-known headphones in our community, here’s the Meze Audio Elite’s frequency response with its hybrid leather and alcantara ear pads compared to the Sennheiser HD 800s. 


Conclusion

And that’s the Meze Audio Elite! The Meze Audio Elite should be available right around the time you’re watching this. Again, it’s priced at $4,000. Thank you for watching this episode of Head-Fi TV. We’ll see you next time and on the forums at headfi.org.